Career advice appreciated :)

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Hey, everyone. I was hoping I could get some hard, no BS type answers to some questions I have. I know this is the internet, a forum, my first post and I'm a squishy target so I'm sure I'm gonna get a lot of flak, so...please forgive my candor and I'll try to keep it short. I've developed a surprising interest in cooking about 8 months ago or so after I cooked jager schnitzel (successfully) and couldn't believe food could taste that good. Now I'm throwing in all kinds of fresh herbs, different spices and trying all kinds of new techniques when cooking everything from hamburgers to chicken, pork, stir fries, the list goes on. I've even outcooked my wife (easy joke in there somewhere) and I've become the cook of the house.

I had a kid in high school and won custody over him and I thought for the past 10 years it would be best to just take any job that I can that pays. I've tried out a handful of different things with initial and long-term success, I have taken college classes for a  more technology oriented career but lately as I've gotten married and my wife is finding stable income I've been bothered by my curiosity to cook professionally. I'm highly competitive in the workplace, I've worked in a machine shop where I managed 4-5 people and I led the most successful 2 years that the very pressured, hands-on department has seen and ever will see until they decide to hire robots.

Long story short, I feel like my technology education is an interest that I seek for money while cooking is something I can do for an hour and a half when I get home from work, sweating, racing the clock a knocking things over and I don't feel like I've done much work by the end of it and I'm always pushing myself to peak the experience of eating. I also impress most people that I cook for, most of the time that I cook ( I don't make anyone eat my experiments anymore :p). So here are my questions. Again, please forgive my candor.

1. Is it *really* that hard to make good money as a chef, or are most chefs just comfortable with what they get and don't like to admit it?

2. Is the business *really* that cut-throat or do most chefs stop pushing themselves after a certain amount of time?

3.Do you often have to work Christmas, Thanksgiving and Halloween?

4.Do a lot of chefs like to build up how dreary it is being a chef to make themselves feel better about what they do?

A few other important notes. I'm 25 years old, I live in the Reno/Tahoe area and I'm mainly interested in learning French cuisine.

Thanks  for reviewing my thread :)
 
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Hi. I saw your post and figured that I might be able to answer your questions.
1) I dont know that it's necessarily that hard to make good money but it does take serious time, dedication and career planning. I make over 200k personally but I don't know any peers that come close to that. A really successful chef will be in the 100-125k area in my experience. This takes a LONG LONG time though and most people don't have the patience for it. You will start off in the $8-9 an hour range and starve for years. I've been cooking professionally for about 22 years and it took me 10 or more years to crack the 50k mark.

2) it's not that cut throat or, if it is, you're in the wrong kitchens. Good kitchens thrive on camaraderie. Its extremely important to learn to dance with your peers. People who are cut throat and out for themselves tend to get voted off the island. I terminate a lot of good people with great skills because they are selfish and not team players. Even at the chef level, almost every chef I've come across has been extremely helpful, accommodating and willing to help out a fellow culinarian.

3) often. To start, always. As a cook, holidays will no longer exist if you're any good at your craft. Your chef will need the best players at the peak times and those times are always weekends and holidays so go ahead and write those off. As chef, you should still share the burden. I typically split holidays between chef and sous chef to make it fair for everyone. We all have families and a life outside the restaurant.

4) hard to say on the subject of dreariness. It's all what you make of it. If you surround yourself with good people who you enjoy, do work that you're proud of and possess self confidence, there's no reason for it to be dreary. I started at 18 and still enjoy every minute of it. I've been all over the world and learned things that I never thought possible but your experience will be based on whether or not your expectations are realistic (food network is not) and what you put into it.

Here's a tip that has nothing to do with your questions. I'm not the smartest or most talented person by a long shot but I've done well because of a few things that most people just don't get. Be on time. Be polite. Be a professional and never be above washing dishes or washing vegetables. Being a chef doesn't mean that you sit on mount Olympus and hand down your amazing creations from on high. It involves people skills, cleanliness, organization and dedication to your craft no matter how tedious the job. Good luck in your decision.
 
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What a thoughtful answer rawprawn rawprawn it's too bad the op didn't care to come back and read it. I would also add that being a chef is it something you step into, you have to work yourself up through the kitchen system so be prepared to hold a number of jobs in a kitchen first from dishwasher to line cook, even culinary school grads have to go through the paces.

Alongside with holidays you can forget about your nights and weekends too. Many people I know in the culinary field don't get home before 1am. And working in a kitchen is tough work. You're on your feet the whole time, the heat is excruciating. It's not a walk in the park. If it's something you are passionate about you can work through these challenges but be certain to know that feeding your family is not the same thing as feeding a paying costumer.
 
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What a thoughtful answer @rawprawn it's too bad the op didn't care to come back and read it. I would also add that being a chef is it something you step into, you have to work yourself up through the kitchen system so be prepared to hold a number of jobs in a kitchen first from dishwasher to line cook, even culinary school grads have to go through the paces.

Alongside with holidays you can forget about your nights and weekends too. Many people I know in the culinary field don't get home before 1am. And working in a kitchen is tough work. You're on your feet the whole time, the heat is excruciating. It's not a walk in the park. If it's something you are passionate about you can work through these challenges but be certain to know that feeding your family is not the same thing as feeding a paying costumer.
I had little faith that my post was going to get approved by moderators, perhaps I was hanging around way too many computer programming forums at the time (they are notorious for taking down any post that has been answered before and/or if they just don't like it). I just came back and wrote an entirely new thread just like this and now I feel like such a goof that this got approved!

Shortly after I made this post I was met with a decision:Restaurant or video games. I took the latter and spent the last year in a video game studio, learning to program and doing QA for them and most days I was in there I thought "I should have gone with the restaurant" considering the hours and the overtime, the working from home, the working for free, the terrible pay, etc.

That was very sound advice and I'm sure I won't get a chance to thank him for it. I am now at a point where I'm seriously considering the restaurant business again. I really just don't want to miss my kids growing up, or miss out on too many family camping trips and the like. It would just break my heart. But on the other hand...I wouldn't know what else I'd be interested in doing and I don't want to be a miserable sack every time I'm home.
 
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The answer @rawprawn provided was one of the most thoughtful answers I've seen on cheftalk.

I work in technology.. there are days I wonder and think about what I might be able to do in a different career. Chances are I'd be poor as a cook.. My creativity wouldn't carry me into having someone else foot the bill while I experiment and see if I'm a genius or just an idiot.

The most profound thing that rawprawn said.. and I will second as something I've done in my career:

"Here's a tip that has nothing to do with your questions. I'm not the smartest or most talented person by a long shot but I've done well because of a few things that most people just don't get. Be on time. Be polite. Be a professional and never be above washing dishes or washing vegetables."

If you can do that.. in life.. then you are moral.. and good.. and someone I would wish to call a friend. People will gravitate towards you.. they will know you are good. It will pay you back ten fold.
 
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Thanks, eastshores. I agree, that was a very profound thing of him to say and I don't take your words lightly either. I guess the big question is how many weekends and how many holidays over the span of a chefs career. I mentioned in another post (that I hope the moderators delete if I don't get back to it in time! because it's too similar to this one) that many people, especially hard workers, will exaggerate about how much they actually work. I've done it, I k ow colleagues who do it, every business owner I've known on a personal level does it. I guess I just hope to get down to the core and find out how many actual weekends and holidays are missed and if making 10-12 an hour for 5 years, does that typically include any tips of some sort or bonuses etc? Know what I mean?

Also, I heard a guy say he was a line cook in a 2 Michelin star restaurant in New York and he was making 13 dollars an hour!! Is that for real??
 
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Also, I heard a guy say he was a line cook in a 2 Michelin star restaurant in New York and he was making 13 dollars an hour!! Is that for real??
Yes its for real. Pay for line cooks and chefs in general is abysmal. In the US people don't want to pay the real cost for having their meal prepared for them and would rather pay an extra tip instead of an up front menu cost to help pay the kitchen staff better. Sad but true. 

If you want tips be a server. If you want a bonus be a salesperson. Some chef jobs have bonus structures, but very very few line cook jobs will. You start cooking now you won't be anywhere near ready to be a chef before at least 10 years. 

The reason you find chefs and cooks so discouraging to people like yourself is because you seem to have a romantic, idealized version of what being a chef and a cook is all about. You've watched the food network or Top Chef, you watch Chopped, maybe some you tube videos. You've made some good food for your family and think that it would be "fun" to be in a pro kitchen. 

You don't realize the hours of work put into to hone a craft. The drudgery of prep work. The cases and cases of tomatoes that have to be X cut, blanched, shocked, and peeled. Hauling 200 lbs of veal bones to the steam kettle to make stock. Peeling endless cloves of garlic, and shallots, and onions. Searing, chopping, blanching. I could go on. I could write a thesis on this stuff. 

Most chefs work what many people would consider a normal workday (i.e. 7-8 hours)...THEN service starts and they work almost another full day on top of that. 

And yes, holidays and weekends are expected. Chefs and cooks work when others play. When people get time off from work, go on vacation, unwind at the end of a long week, what do they do? They go out to eat...and who has to cook for them? 

I mean, every place is different. There are jobs in the culinary field that are M-F 9am to 5pm. There are jobs that have nights and weekends and holidays off. Those jobs are generally institutional type jobs..nothing wrong with that, just those jobs often aren't the most creative and rewarding (at least in the "chef" part of the job). 

Do some chefs exaggerate? I'm sure they do. Many don't. Long hours and lots of work, not enough time, etc, is a way of life in the kitchen. It's not false bravado or machismo, it's just fact. You will work a lot. Under pressure. Where it's hot. For little money. 
 I am now at a point where I'm seriously considering the restaurant business again. I really just don't want to miss my kids growing up, or miss out on too many family camping trips and the like. It would just break my heart. But on the other hand...I wouldn't know what else I'd be interested in doing and I don't want to be a miserable sack every time I'm home.
You should stay doing what you are doing. Honestly you probably have no idea what you'd be getting into and would be better off just cooking for fun as a hobby for your friends and family on the weekends. If you think you might still want to work in the kitchen of a restaurant go get a dishwashing job and see how it goes from there. 
 
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Alright, well firstly, I've never seen the food network and nobody has discouraged me from being a chef. I just read a bunch of sorry sacks of shit complaining about their lives. Work is not romantic to me, wooptie fucking doo I cooked for my family and they liked it. Maybe I should get a job as a tickler considering my family laughs when I tickle them?

I'm not buying what you're selling to be perfectly honest. Nights and weekends are expected, great. What does that mean? How many weekends out of the month do you work at a decent place that isn't interested in running a chop shop? I know of a restaurant here that's authentic French that's closed for 6 weeks in the summer. People are exaggerating, like yourself. I'm not that naive. I hope to get some more realistic information from you if you happen to have it. You don't need to exaggerate in order for me to respect your work ethic and talents. I'm sure you're quite a hard worker.
 
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I guess the big question is how many weekends and how many holidays over the span of a chefs career.
I started working in the restaurant business in 1974. I had my first Christmas off in 1992. But that is probably only because I owned the place and had always sworn that when I did become an owner one day, I would be closed on Christmas Day. I had my first Thanksgiving off in 2011. But that is because I was working for a caterer and Thanksgiving is not a big day for caterers. It is huge for restaurants though. Weekends off???, can't really remember, but doubtful I would need more than one hand to count them, not even sure that I ever had any.                                                                                                                                           

The above answers are straight forward truth from my life and nothing else.

 No ..
  BS type answers... no sorry sacks of shit complaining about their lives...don't need to exaggerate
and the vast majority of my work was at places that were
decent place that isn't interested in running a chop shop
so you can do what you want with the info, but I expect the reaction to be
 
I'm not buying what you're selling to be perfectly honest.
Good thing my retirement plan is already in place. :~)
 
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Alright, well firstly, I've never seen the food network and nobody has discouraged me from being a chef. I just read a bunch of sorry sacks of shit complaining about their lives. Work is not romantic to me, wooptie fucking doo I cooked for my family and they liked it. Maybe I should get a job as a tickler considering my family laughs when I tickle them?

 
You can get a job doing whatever you want, I don't care. You said, in your OP:
 
Hey, everyone. I was hoping I could get some hard, no BS type answers to some questions I have. I know this is the internet, a forum, my first post and I'm a squishy target so I'm sure I'm gonna get a lot of flak, so...
I know that was a couple years ago, but still. You kind of asked for it, no?
I'm not buying what you're selling to be perfectly honest. Nights and weekends are expected, great. What does that mean? How many weekends out of the month do you work at a decent place that isn't interested in running a chop shop? I know of a restaurant here that's authentic French that's closed for 6 weeks in the summer. People are exaggerating, like yourself. I'm not that naive. I hope to get some more realistic information from you if you happen to have it. You don't need to exaggerate in order for me to respect your work ethic and talents. I'm sure you're quite a hard worker.
I'm not selling anything, I was trying to give you a partial picture of what working in a restaurant is like...as you asked. In fact, I would say I'm actively trying to talk you out of trying to be a chef.

I don't understand what or why you think that isn't a given. I work 6 nights a week, have 1 day off a week. If a chef has 2 days off a week (bonus for 2 in a row) he/she is doing good. How many weekends a month? Are you serious? All of them. All the weekends. Every weekend. Who do you think works when I'm not there? Do you think restaurants have a rotating staff of cooks and chefs who alternate days/nights and weekends? Come on, I'm starting to think you're a troll. 

I'm confident everyone here will back me up. Now, there are parts of the industry where this isn't true. Some restaurants close for holidays, some are only open for breakfast and lunch. I'm sure there are a few that aren't even open on weekends. But it is not the norm. 

I'm curious to what exactly you think I'm exaggerating?

But hey, don't take my word for it. I'm sure any number of restaurants in the Tahoe area need a dishwasher. Go give it a shot. Come back in a month and tell me I'm lying. 
 
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When you do what you love you end up loving what you do despite the drawbacks. I'm not in the restaurant business. But as a musician I've rarely ever have a weekend off, or Christmas Eve or most holidays where people need music. Yet there is always time to see my family and somehow it works out. I don't know any other way. I do believe the restaurant industry is even more difficult in terms of time off but it can be done.
 
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I did factory maintenance and for several years would tell the wife "We can pay for Christmas because I am working Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve."  Find something you like to do that will pay the bills.  Remember that the only thing fun and job have in common is three letters.  I like to cook, but could never afford the pay cut.  so whenever my church needs someone to cook and schedule allows, I am there.  Most of the time, I cook what I want the way I want it.  also realize that working in a  restaurant you will probably spend a long time cooking food the way the boss/owner wants it, not the way you might want
 

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